ReThink has been an invaluable partner in our work. We value their expertise, collaborative nature, access to information, and method of letting the field lead to be incredibly important factors in gaining and maintaining trust.
A New Model For Building Collaborative Communications Capacity
With more than 40 years of cumulative organizing experience between them, Lynn Fahselt and Peter Ferenbach launched ReThink after countless hours of conversation around a few key questions. Why do some movements fail where others succeed? Where is movement work headed? How can we connect more fundamentally to Americans’ daily lives and engage them in building a better future? And why do our opponents so frequently dominate public discourse and so consistently frame the terms of debate?
Finding the answers meant questioning the status quo. And their conclusions became the foundation of ReThink.
Media and Communications
The first is that media and communications are central to movement building. Ultimately, we communicate our values successfully and inspire our constituencies or we do not. Strategic communications isn’t just about sending out a press release or penning an op-ed, it is about driving a powerful narrative.
Success is not possible, however, if organizations do not have the capacity, the training, and the resources to drive their messages. Building one organization’s capacity, meanwhile, is inadequate because no single organization can win a policy victory. Winning lasting change is a team effort. We need to build capacity across movements.
Communications can be the glue that binds efforts together. The process of reaching agreement on messaging strategies can involve intense negotiation, but the negotiations themselves can be the means to creating messages with shared input and ownership.
From the outset, we questioned the value of competing for media attention and keeping press lists private. A limited number of journalists cover any given topic. The more everyone in a movement knows who they are, the more we can provide them with different angles and unique voices, ideally driving unified messages. Our goal can’t be competing for a slice of the media pie. Our goal has to be creating a bigger pie. And the more we engage the media, the greater the coverage.
Considering these questions, another core principle emerged: data is neutral. When we map the media landscape on an issue, we can see where we are winning and losing. We can see where our opportunities are and where threats exist. We can see whether messages are resonating or not. And these findings don’t belong to any single organization— they belong to the movement. They represent shared challenges and insights that require shared responses. And every data point is an opportunity for learning, allowing us to refine and adapt our collective work and strengthen our hand for the next struggle.
Commitment to the Cause
We held another principle, perhaps most dearly of all. We are deeply committed partners in the struggles we take on. We have fielded countless urgent requests and managed dozens of crisis communications scenarios, often working 24/7 alongside our colleagues. We never keep track of those hours and we spend as much time on organizing as we do on straight media work. We aim to be an ally to all of the groups we serve, a partner in the struggle, and a friend they can trust.
Where We're Going
We begin the next decade with a clear set of priorities and momentum underway to achieve every one.
To make sure that all Americans have a voice, we are working to raise up the voices of local leaders working for voting rights, train Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security, and develop the media skills of American Muslim community leaders. A pluralistic society requires that all voices are heard and nowhere is this more important than in the media. Whether it’s a TV appearance or the written word, authentic spokespeople enrich the policy dialogue and implicitly teach Americans about cultures and perspectives they may have had little exposure to, helping to combat prejudice and build an inclusive America.
To conduct message research that’s quick, carefully targeted, and immediately actionable, we are rapidly growing our in-house capacity. We are using new online platforms that allow us to test messages with discrete audiences. Augmenting our relationship with major research firms, this targeted message testing is allowing us to test our messages with direct input from the groups we work with and guarantee that we’re fielding impactful language.
Executive-level Training and Resources
We are rolling out a news series of resources focused on Executive Directors and other leaders. We’ve heard repeatedly that senior staff need more training and support in order to maximize their organization’s impact, so we’re piloting projects to meet that need. These will range from workshops on “Developing and Supervising a Strategic Communications Plan” and “Building a Comprehensive Social Media Strategy for Your Organization,” to “Using the Media to Raise More Money and Build Your Constituency.” As with everything, we’ll test these new resources, determine what’s most beneficial to groups, and refine this specialized capacity building accordingly.
Sharing Lessons Learned
We are working to proactively capture and share lessons learned in movement building. What we’ve seen is that a successful strategic and innovative approach in advocacy for Democracy is often easily adapted and applied in advocacy for Peace and Security, and vice versa. While we work on a spectrum of issues, the core strategic, tactical, and methodological insights are typically far more universal. With this in mind, we aim to increase our commitment to sharing learning across sectors.
New Tools and More Insight
We are evolving a new set of tools for measuring the impact of our work. ReThink was founded with the aim of building more powerful and effective movements. We are driven to learn from what works, and from what doesn’t. We don’t want to simply implement campaigns and training programs; we want to use those efforts to refine both our own work and the work of our organizational partners, because ultimately, we want to win.
And finally, to continue to sustain and grow our work and do all of the above, we are investing in building our core capacity to meet our staff needs and ensure we can capture the impacts and innovations of each of our program teams.
We have a vision of a just, inclusive, and peaceful America, and heaven knows, we’ve got a lot of work to do. That’s why it’s uniquely important to learn from every experience and make sure that all of our efforts are maximized.
We could never fully put into words how grateful we are for the partnerships and policy successes over the past decade, but from our point of view, we’re just getting started.